7 Easy Steps for Better Sleep and a Healthier Mind

O sleep! O gentle sleep! Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness? – William Shakespeare

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In case you are not active on social media (or at least paying attention to the calendar), you might have missed the fact that Monday, March 13, was the National Napping Day. If you are like me and tend to notice strange things happening, you probably asked yourself, “Who comes up with these ‘Days’?”

According to the National Day Calendar website, the date marks the return of daylight saving time, which means you get the extra hour of sleep lost when the time was moved forward. The website goes on to add that Boston University Professor William Anthony, and his wife, Camille Anthony, created this Napping Day to highlight the health benefits of sleep.

Finally, something we can agree on!

A key part of having a healthy mind and warding off problems like depression is through giving your body the amount of sleep time it needs.

There have been numerous studies on sleep and its role in the human experience. You have heard from various sources that you need to get 6-8 hours of sleep in order to be fully rested and be able to function optimally during the day.

Some leaders have been rumoured to sleep for less than the recommended hours. For instance, in a BBC article, former U.K Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, said she only “slept four hours a night on weekdays”. In the U.S., it has been said that President Donald Trump doesn’t sleep much either, with that reputation coming about because he was tweeting at 3 O’clock in the morning during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But why is sleep so important for mental health?

The Science of Sleep

Circadian Neuroscientist Russell Foster gave a speech at a TED Global Conference in 2013, citing three scientific reasons for why we sleep. In a transcript of his speech on the TED website, he noted that sleep is used for body restoration, energy conservation, and brain processing and memory consolidation.

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Professor Foster also linked a lack of sufficient sleep with poor mental health. He said, “We’ve known for 130 years that in severe mental illness, there is always, always sleep disruption, but it’s been largely ignored. He added, “…mental illness and sleep are not simply associated, but they are physically linked within the brain. The neural networks that predispose you to normal sleep, give you normal sleep, and those that give you normal mental health, are overlapping.”

In 2009, Harvard University released a newsletter on Sleep and Mental Health, which showed that a 1989 study had found that those who had sleeping problems were more likely to develop major depression a few years later. Other studies also showed that those who were depressed were less likely to respond to treatment. If you can’t treat the problem, then how are you supposed to get better? It’s no wonder then, that the depressed patients with sleeping problems started contemplating suicide.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) highlights the negative effects that depression can have on one’s life. They include insomnia, drastic weight changes, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of energy or interest, and physical aches.

With such life-changing effects, there is a great need for everyone to start getting quality sleep.

How to Sleep Better

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According to the American Psychological Association, leading sleep researchers came up with several techniques to help you get some sleep:

  • Have a sleep schedule – You have to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This will condition your body to know when to shut down for sleep and when to wake up.
  • Avoid caffeine a few hours to sleep time – Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep your body active when you are supposed to be sleeping.
  • Exercise regularly – Working out every day will make your body tired and thus you will crave sleep at night.
  • Minimise sleep distracters – Excessive noise, temperature, and light can affect your ability to sleep. You need to find a quiet, dark room with a comfortable sleeping surface in order to sleep well.
  • Try to wake up without an alarm clock – This might be difficult for some, but doing this will let your body decide when you have had enough sleep. With this method, you no longer have to worry about sleep debt caused by cutting your sleep short using an alarm clock.
  • Avoid taking alcohol or smoking – These substances contain chemicals or effects that can affect your ability to sleep.
  • Go to bed earlier than usual – Sleeping early will ensure that you are getting sufficient sleep.

I would also add that since some people have medical conditions that might affect their ability to sleep, it would be a great idea to talk to a doctor, who will decide whether you need medication or sleeping aids to help you sleep.

As you can see, sleep is an important component of our lives. Not only does it affect our productivity, but also our mental and physical health. When depression arises from sleep deprivation, it can lead to other health complications and, eventually, to suicide. So take your sleep seriously, it could save your life.

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. – Thomas Dekker

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Changing Attitudes Toward Mental Health?

If you have been following the Germanwings plane crash story, by now you know that the tragic events that occurred were as a result of a pilot who was suffering mental health issues taking his own life in what has been called “suicide by plane”.

As you can imagine, the knowledge that someone you love is in a plane that you are hearing reports of having crashed somewhere is simply devastating. Unfortunately, there were many deaths, many mourners and many heartbroken families. The sheer effects of that day will reverberate for years to come.

Knowing this then, it has come as a surprise to learn that a lady who lost her boyfriend – due to the intentional acts of the pilot – does not lay any blame on the pilot due to reports about his mental health state. You can read that article here.

Does this surprise you?

Could the lady’s reaction be taken as a change in attitude by society toward people who are suffering from mental health issues?

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Only time will tell whether this is a major paradigm shift in the struggle against mental health diseases. There are a lot of people suffering silently and they need assistance.

Do what you can to be there for others and perhaps that will be the stepping stone toward making a real difference in their life.

2015: The Keys to a Healthier You

The new year brings a sense of pride in having survived 2014 and a sense of optimism for what the future holds in store in 2015.

There are those who are excited about what they are setting out to accomplish, whereas others are merely trudging along, dealing with situations in their lives as they arise. For those with mental health issues or know someone with a mental health problem, life is looked upon with different eyes. There are challenges that seem more daunting than they really are while others are simply overwhelming.

Looking to the future

This year, 2015, provides a great opportunity to utilize all the information we have gathered in the previous year to set ourselves on the path of being healthy. Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Go for a medical check-up

With sky-rocketing costs of medicine and healthcare insurance premiums, it is easy to avoid visiting the hospital when you are ‘feeling fine’. There are many diseases which don’t exhibit any symptoms until your immune system is fully compromised and overwhelmed. Going to the hospital for a check-up has helped a lot of people to spot life-threatening diseases before they took hold over the body. So, no matter what the prices look like, remember that you are saving yourself more money by knowing the status of your health.

As recently mentioned, you can ask your doctor to test for the MTFHR gene mutation which will give you a heads up on whether your family will be beset with mental health issues. While some mental health issues can be linked with one’s lifestyle, the key cause of mental health issues lies within this gene mutation. You can spare your family a lot of heartache by getting tested and knowing your status, so that you can live responsibly and also so that you can be better taken care of. It is always better to know the monster you are facing.

  1. Learn to Manage Stress

Stress is an essential component of our lives. It makes us more aware of our decisions and choices, and it also helps us identify problems and solve them. In our society today, stress can become unmanageable to the extent that one’s quality of life deteriorates. Stress affects relationships, hinders personal development and even weakens the body’s immune system thus making people prone to diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.

You need to find ways of managing stress. The first thing you should do is identify the stressors and take charge. If you are always reacting to the stress that means you are not in control of your life. Be more assertive and don’t take on more than you can handle. But most importantly, you should approach any problem with a positive attitude and perspective.

  1. Keep depression at bay

Depression is a silent killer. Many people never know they are depressed until their lives break down completely. Other people never know that someone – including a loved one – is suffering from depression until that person shares their problem or attempts to commit suicide. Everyone is going through some sort of struggle and it is easy to suffer in silence because no one seems to care about you.

Stay healthy and free from depression by managing your stress better. Ensure that you maintain your social life and interact with other people. Go outside and get some sunshine and some fresh air. Find a purpose in life that excites you and pursue it. These are just some ideas to tackle depression before it ruins your life.

For more information on how to keep depression at bay, you can read my article here.

  1. Help others. It will help you.

We spend our whole lives focussing on ourselves: our problems, our relationships, our happiness etc. There’s just too much going on in our lives to focus on other people. Life however shows that by helping others, we help ourselves. Once you shift your focus from your life and struggles and focus on someone else, you begin to see life in different eyes. You get a new perspective on what is important in life.

One issue that I highlighted last year was that, people don’t ask others how they are doing. Sometimes people struggle in silence and it takes someone who cares to understand them and uplift their spirits by sharing in their pain. Aim to be that person this year. It will work wonders on your health as you will have different approach to life. Empathising with others also gifts you a mental fortitude to help you in your life’s journey.

  1. Keep your mind active

Parkinson’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease. These are all mental health diseases that have brought fear and pain to our society. Some mental health illnesses can be kept at bay by constantly keeping your brain active. This year, choose to become a reader. Read a lot and gather a lot of information. Analyse things in your mind and challenge your brain to solve complex issues and recall information.

There is a fear amongst people that as you get older, your memory wanes. Well, if you don’t exercise your brain, this issue will become your reality sooner rather than later. Exercise your mind. It will protect you from diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Staying healthy this year and beyond, is important not only for you but for the people who love you. Keep yourself healthy and have a positive outlook on life. Things are not always as bad as they seem.

Happy New Year. Have a Blessed 2015!

Interesting Quotes on Mental Health

As one of you pointed out recently when I posted the quotes on life and suicide, I did not mention mental health and highlight its importance. Many people are suffering silently in our world. The major stresses such as work, relationships, and access to basic needs, have pushed many into depression. But there is a more sinister threat, though, one that is rarely mentioned when people turn to suicide to alleviate their suffering: Mental health.

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Here are some quotes on mental health:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

World Health Organization

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

Bill Clinton

The problem with the stigma around mental health is really about the stories that we tell ourselves as a society. What is normal? That’s just a story that we tell ourselves.

Matthew Quick

Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with.

Adam Ant

Self-esteem is as important to our well-being as legs are to a table. It is essential for physical and mental health and for happiness.

Louise Hart

If you look at suicides, most of them are connected to depression. And the mental health system just fails them. It’s so sad. We know what to do. We just don’t do it.

Rosalynn Carter

We take our kids for physical vaccinations, dental exams, eye checkups. When do we think to take our – our son or daughter for a mental health check-up?

Gordon Smith

Mental health is often missing from public health debates even though it’s critical to wellbeing.

Diane Abbott

I was one of those people who put too much emphasis on work and career and material possessions, and it took its toll on all my relationships, on my physical health, my emotional and mental health.

Tony Shalhoub

There are so many clichés associated with mental health – such as the ‘fine line between lunacy and genius’ – which are, on the whole, a load of rubbish.

Jo Brand

“About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.”
C.G. Jung

Here is an unlikely one from Shakespeare’s book:

“Macbeth: How does your patient, doctor?

Doctor: Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from rest.
Macbeth: Cure her of that! Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon her heart.
Doctor: Therein the patient must minister to himself.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

“What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes.”

Raymond Cramer

I have long recognized a link between fitness and mental health and I think we need to encourage young people to take part in sports and team activities because we know it has such positive results.

Tipper Gore

The last two quotes give a call to action and highlight what role we can play (very important):

“It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.”

Steve Maraboli

I’m convinced that we can shape a different future for this country as it relates to mental health and as it relates to suicide.

David Satcher

Feel free to add any quote on mental health that has touched you in some way. And please don’t shy away from asking someone close to you whether they are okay and if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes people feel like nobody cares and they have no one to share their problems with. Be that person. A few minutes may help someone get the help they need. It may be a word of encouragement that changes their lives for the better. Or they may really need to go to the hospital to see a specialist. Trust me, getting all the money in the world will not feel as rewarding as saving someone’s life.

You are all welcome to comment on and share this post.

Sources

https://www.brainyquote.com

https://www.goodreads.com

http://www.quotegarden.com/

http://www.searchquotes.com/

http://www.changingthepresent.org/mental_health/quotes